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MHR Draft Resources -- Know Your NFL Combine

Welcome to another installment of MHR Draft Resources!  This one is a look at the Combine, which is right around the corner, starting February 20th and continuing until the 26th. We have many new fans who frequent this site, and not all of them may understand just what the Combine is, or where it fits in the grand scheme of the NFL universe. Fear not! Mile High Report is here for you!

National Invitational Camp

The National Invitational Camp, commonly called 'the Combine' is a giant 6-day, track-meet-like event, held every year in the hospitable confines of the RCA Dome (now Lucas Oil Stadium) in Indianapolis. 32 NFL teams send upwards of 40 individuals each, all involved in different capacities with the team such as scouts, coaches and managers, who are there to meet and evaluate almost 350 top seniors and underclassmen. These players are run through a gauntlet of mental and physical tests, and the effect is to clearly delineate the yearly draft class and to provide warrant for their placement on the 'big boards' around the league. Though around 80% of combine invites are eventually drafted, Denver is one of the leading teams at signing college free agents who had excellent combine results. Andre Hall is one such example, signed in 2006 (following brief stints with Tampa Bay and Chicago) after posting the 20th-best Combine performance in the last eight years, behind players like Adrian Peterson and Tatum Bell.

NFS (National Football Scouting) is the service that puts the event together and formally provides the invitations to the prospects, and it is their responsibility to provide security, regulate the uniformity of the testing methods and to organize the event. The NIC is not the only 'combine' as many more occur throughout the country, usually involving smaller geographic areas, but the NIC is by far the most prominent and features the greatest amount of NFL destined talent.

Don't be shy...

Any bashful players need to check their blush at the door. The measurement process is like a scene out of Anthem or 1984. As the prospects are poked and prodded seven ways to Sunday with only a meager pair of shorts for modesty, the exaggerations of the game day rosters come to light. Of all these measurements, the 'triad' or 'triangle' measurements are considered the basics: Height, weight and 40-yd dash time. But their feet and hands are measured as well as the length of their legs and arms. From fingertips to the base of the palm, scouts are looking for hand measurements in excess of 9" and taking note of any arm measurements shorter than 32". These are not necessary exclusionary measurements, but they do red-flag the prospect. Scouts would go from that 'red-flag' to an evaluation of how that particular player overcomes that particular variety of handicap. Our own Elvis Dumervil barely registered 32" (32 3/4") but when combined with his wide chest, his wingspan was significantly longer than expected, and though he did drop in the draft because of size issues, Denver had no problem selecting him for his drive and consistency in overcoming a "measurement" obstacle throughout the years.

The Trials: What to aim for

The following table is compiled by averaging the times and reps of the top 100 prospects from the past 8 combines (the most reliable data can be had for this time frame), and weighting the results toward the top performances all time. While not exact, this table is a pretty fair representation of what sort of benchmark the top prospects will be held to in order to maintain or gain position in the draft.

Note that DT, QB, and OL are not required to run the 60-yd shuttle, nor are QBs and WRs expected to lift, though they are free to do so.

MHR Combine Trial Targets
Trial QB WR RB TE FB OL Quality Evaluated
40 yd dash 4.90 4.55 4.60 4.85 4.85 5.3 Speed over distance
10yd split-40 1.70 1.7 1.6 1.7 1.7 1.8 Initial Burst
20 yd split-40 2.85 2.70 2.65 2.80 2.80 3.05 Burst stamina
225lb bench press N/A N/A 22 22 22 25 Upper body strength
Vertical Jump 30 36 32 32 30 28 Leg strength; explosiveness
Broad Jump 9'0" 10'0" 9'6" 9'6" 9'3" 8'4" Leg strength; explosiveness
20yd shuttle 4.30 4.20 4.25 4.30 4.30 4.70 Burst, flexibility, balance
60yd shuttle N/A 11.5 11.6 11.8 11.8 N/A Endurance, flexibility, balance
3-cone drill 7.25 7.10 7.20 7.30 7.35 7.85 Agility, hips, change of direction
Trial DT DE ILB OLB CB S Quality Evaluated
40 yd dash 5.15 4.85 4.80 4.75 4.50 4.60 Speed over distance
10yd split-40 1.80 1.70 1.70 1.65 1.60 1.65 Initial Burst
20 yd split-40 2.95 2.80 2.80 2.75 2.65 2.70 Burst stamina
225lb bench press 27 24 24 23 14 17 Upper body strength
Vertical Jump 30 33 33 36 36 36 Leg strength; explosiveness
Broad Jump 8'6" 9'6" 9'6" 9'9" 10'0" 10'0" Leg strength; explosiveness
20yd shuttle 4.60 4.35 4.30 4.20 4.10 4.15 Burst, flexibility, balance
60yd shuttle N/A 11.8 11.8 11.6 11.3 11.4 Endurance, flexibility, balance
3-cone drill 7.75 7.40 7.30 7.20 7.00 7.10 Agility, hips, change of direction

What Are the Trials All About?

The names of the tests really do speak for themselves. The 40-yard dash is "The Trial" of the Combine, though many scouts and front offices claim that it does not weigh heavily in their final evaluation. Bull. When a player runs a forty, EVERYONE stops what they are doing and watches. As our own HoosierTeacher has noted repeatedly in these pages, "You can't coach speed." And speed translates DIRECTLY to more money and more opportunities to play in the NFL. So yeah, they're watching. So much so in fact, they usually have TWO sets of eyes on the player, one set watching for the first 10 yards (10yd split) and another set of eyes watching the first twenty yards. Beyond this it isn't odd to have another set of eyes watching from the finish line who is responsible for seeing the run in its entirety. Ideally the players want to minimize drag by getting low early (translates well to football, with blockers needing to win the battle of "low man wins."). As well they are looking to have a great burst off of the line, and get into their "form" as early as possible. I was a sprinter in high school, and it seems to me that many players would benefit greatly from getting to "form" running sooner than they do, but the NFL seems to place a priority on keeping low. In my opinion, many players stay low for far too long. No one asked me though. :)  It should be noted that the combine features electronic testing as of 2007, and official stopwatch timer, but that there is no "official" time kept.  Scouts are responsible for whichever timekeeper they want to go with, whether electronic, combine official or other.  Usually they insist on keeping the time themselves, and as noted above, they often get multiple timers and compare.

The bench press is looked at for Linemen most specifically, though for Denver, it is not as important as agility. But still, most players require good upper body strength to excel in the NFL, from WRs getting separation to LBs fighting off blocks. The jumps measure lower body strength in a player, and while knowing the potential of a defensive back or WR to be a high-jumping ball hawk, it is more important to get a feel for the player's burst, or explosiveness, whether for delivering the possession-ending hit or getting off the line and into a block in a dominant fashion.

The shuttle runs are becoming more and more valuable to teams around the league as a premium is placed on athleticism from their linemen on both sides of the ball. In a shuttle the player starts at a yard line, runs 5 yards in one direction, then 10 yards in the other direction, then 5 yards back to their starting position. They are required to touch the ground at each stop except the last. In the 60-yd shuttle, the player runs 5 yards, 10 yards and then 15 yards, touching the ground at every stop except the last. Personally, I think they could upgrade this trial to end with an odd-shaped tackling dummy and give the players an opportunity to tackle the dummy any way they choose. It would look cool, but would probably be considered an injury risk. (Lame!) In its current incarnation the test is expected to measure agility, change of direction and lateral burst speed. My version of course, would add "Finishing it All Off" to that list, but once again, no one is asking me.

The three-cone drill starts with a unique formation. The cones are arranged in the shape of a "lambda": basically an upside down 'V.' They are placed five yards apart, and players must first run back and forth between the first two cones, usually done laterally in a shuffle-step style of movement to accommodate the quick change of direction required to weave around the second cone, weave inside the third cone and around the outside of the two other cones on the way back to the starting line. Sound complicated? It is, and it is a sight to behold when it is executed fluidly.

Beyond these trials, each player may be run through position specific drills such as cutting drills for receivers and throwing drills for QBs.  The combine is also a key place for scouts to collect interviews, a vital part of the information-gathering process on each prospect.   There is also the Cybex test, a machine that you strap into that measures strength of limbs and ligaments, and is used to evaluate how well a prospect has recovered from certain injuries.  I was tested on a Cybex for a previous job I had, and it is pretty cool, but I think that the numbers will be loaded at the combine.  Basically, any player that will take a stock hit for using the machine just will opt out.  Hopefully some players take advantage of the test to help abate some injury concerns about them, but who knows...

And who could forget the Wonderlic, of Ryan Clady stock watch fame.  The Wonderlic taken at the Combine takes 12 minutes and contains 50 questions. The test is also designed so most prospects do not finish in time.  Want to see how you measure up?  Give it a try!

Not the Most Important Thing in the World; Even Though ESPN Will Make You Think So

A great combine doesn't directly correlate to the greatness of the player. Some players with significant ability are never invited. Some great players perform poorly but go on to have great careers. Denver has created their own near-omniscient legacy of finding RBs at every level of the draft.

Many times, it is a single quality such as a vertical jump or shuttle time that will separate players locked at a position in the later rounds. At the heart of the combine is the fluid nature of the NFL draft: for one player to move up, another must move down. Sometimes the only difference to be found is the athleticism shown at the combine.

However, there are some useful numbers and indicators, which scouts have been using for some time, that come out of the combine,  specifically when taken in tandem...

Powerful Players

This formula is pretty simple:  combine the number of bench-press reps, the vertical jump, and the broad jump of a player together.  If the total is 70+ you may have someone special on your hands.  For example, Chris Williams was ranked as the #3 OT last year behind Clady and Long.  By this measurement however, Williams' score of 54 lags significantly behind Long at 74 and Clady at 77.  One way of honing this measurement down a bit is to disregard any player with only one significantly-high score.

Quick or Fast? 

By comparing a player's 40-yd dash and 20-yd shuttle, an opinion can begin to be formed about their speed relative to their quickness.  The opinion would be honing in on the abstraction of "explosiveness."  Basically, take the 40-yd time for a player and subtract 0.5 seconds from it (half a second).  This number should be equal to their 20-yd shuttle time.  If it is higher, it is an indicator that the player has more quickness, if it is lower, chances are you are dealing with straight line speed.